(movie review written in 2004.)
I admit to sitting down with some preconcieved notions before seeing some films. It was hard not to when confronted with "13 Going on 30", a romantic comedy that seemed to simply take "Big" and make it into a chick flick (worse yet, by the writers of "What Women Want", which I didn't care for). To my surprise, I sat down to find one of the most infectiously joyful and endearing films of the past couple years. I've always like Jennifer Garner, despite not ever really getting into "Alias" (sorry, but it's Sunday night and I want to watch sitcoms before Monday morning appears).
The picture opens in 1987, with Jenna Rink (Christa B. Allen) trying her best to fit in with the popular crowd, despite the fact that the cool girls just want to use her to get their homework done. Despite the fact that her outcast friend Matt (Jack Salvatore Jr.) tells her that she's wonderful on her own, Jenna goes ahead with a birthday party - which turns into a failure when the cool kids ditch her.
Jenna runs into a closet, wishing that she could be thirty, like the girls in her Poise magazine, who are "Thirty, Flirty and Thriving". A dash of pixie dust falls upon her, and she wakes up the next morning in 2004 (now played by Garner) in a posh Manhattan apartment with a boyfriend she doesn't know. She soon finds that she's working for the same magazine she treasured all those years ago, and is working with Lucy (Judy Greer), the popular girl she looked up to all those years ago.
Confused and in a state of shock at first, she gradually begins to accept her new situation, even seeking out the only person she really feels like she knows - Matt (now played by Mark Ruffalo). Unfortunately, the two of them have become separated over the years that Jenna no longer remembers, starting with when she hurt his feelings at the birthday party. Yet, he finds himself charmed by the newly free-spirited Jenna.
The material may be somewhat predictable, but the performances and smoothly handled tone really elevate "13" into something much more. Jennifer Garner isn't going to get awards for a film like this, although she certainly deserves one. Her performance as a teenager suddenly finding herself a thirty-something businesswoman is charming, funny and perfectly played. Little moments like Garner calling for a taxi on the street in a way that a kid would on her first trip to the big city are amusing and played in a way that I thought was funnier than Jamie Lee Curtis's entertaining, but overplayed efforts in "Freaky Friday". She has terrific chemistry with Mark Ruffalo, whose low-key presence plays off of Garner's energy superbly. Andy Serkis (the actor who played the CG character Gollum in the "Lord of the Rings" films) also steals a few scenes.
There are a lot of films that are sweet, but they often come off as manufactured. "13" is the first comedy in a long time that not only put a smile on my face, but really was genuinely uplifting. The ending is a little bit too quick a resolution, but other than that, I thought "13" was largely a winner. The film got a somewhat mixed reception when it arrived in theaters earlier this year, but I'd be surprised if it didn't stick somewhere on my list of top 10 films for 2004 by the time the year comes to a close.
VIDEO: "13 Going on 30" is presented in 1.85:1 (1080p/AVC) by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. While I found the DVD presentation to be more than satisfactory when I reviewed it, the Blu-Ray is a surprisingly steep step-up over the DVD presentation. Sharpness and detail see the biggest benefit: the picture boasts impressive clarity and depth, especially on the bright NYC street scenes.
Aside from a couple of slight instances of edge enhancement and a few minor specks on the print, the picture appeared pristine. Colors remained bright and vivid throughout, with nice saturation. While "13 Going on 30" doesn't have the most remarkable visual style (although the work of cinematographer Don Burgess does result in a film that's a bit more engaging visually than the usual comedy), but this is a lovely Blu-Ray presentation - I'm not sure the film looked this good when I saw it theatrically.
SOUND: The film's Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack provides a mildly entertaining experience, but things stay largely as one would expect. A couple of moments - such as the "Thriller" sequence at the dance party - provide some minor reinforcement of the music by the rear speakers, but the surrounds remain otherwise pretty silent. The street scenes in New York City could have put the surrounds to more use for some ambience, but oh well. Dialogue and the film's minimal sound effects remained clean and clear.
EXTRAS: This Blu-Ray edition combines the extras from the original DVD Special Edition with the extras from the "Fun and Flirty" DVD edition. While I would have liked to have seen at least a couple of new features, I suppose at least it's nice the Blu-Ray combined the extras from both DVDs.
The title also includes no less than 18 deleted scenes, some of which are scene extensions. Unfortunately, these are not accompanied by any sort of commentary or explanation, although I'd guess a fair amount of it was lost for pacing reasons. There's a lot of fun stuff here, well worth watching for fans of the film.
"Making of a Teen Dream" is an 18-minute "making of" documentary that mainly discusses how wonderful everyone was to work with. There's some fun, nice moments and a couple of neat behind-the-scenes clips scattered about, but the documentary is a little too warm and fuzzy. "I Was a Teenage Geek" has the stars remembering their nerdy teenage years, complete with pictures of them from way back when.
The DVD also includes trailers for other Columbia/Tristar movies, blooper reel, at Benetar and Rick Springfield music videos and an image gallery.
We also get an alternate beginning/ending, both of which show the original child actors cast as the kids and, quite honestly, they're awful. These have to go down as some of the most fascinatingly terrible alternate scenes I've ever seen. The opening and ending of the film in the final theatrical version work really well, in part because the kids are actually good actors and really resemble their adult versions. The kids here are almost embarassing (young Jenna actually appears to screw up a line in the alternate ending), and the different final moments actually have to be seen to be believed. While some people found the ending in the theatrical release to be a stretch, at least they didn't go with the ending as seen here, because the movie would have suffered tremendously had it and the alternate beginning been left in.
We also get a 7-minute featurette on 80's fashions where a bunch of teen models talk about, like, how cool 80's fashions are. Teenagers may find this interesting (if so, I'm scared), but I was rather disappointed to find that the featurette doesn't include anything new from the filmmakers.
Director Gary Winick provides a very good audio commentary that has the director talking about his goals for working on his first big-budget picture and points out things he'd like to have changed or didn't quite work. Winick also discusses shooting on location in New York, casting and other topics. The title also includes a second audio commentary from the producers: Gina Matthews, Donna Arkoff-Roth and Susan Arnold.
Final Thoughts: The underrated "13 Going on 30" still charms a few years later, with Garner's terrific lead performance being the highlight. The Blu-Ray offers excellent video quality, fine audio and a nice set of bonus features. Recommended.
The Film B+